Alan 'Blind Owl' Christie Wilson (July 4,
1943 – September 3, 1970) was the leader, singer, and primary composer in
the American blues band Canned Heat. He played guitar and harmonica, and
wrote most of the songs for the band.
Wilson was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in the Boston suburb of
Arlington. He majored in music at Boston University and often played the
Cambridge coffeehouse folk-blues circuit. He acquired the nickname 'Blind
Owl' owing to his extreme nearsightedness; in one instance when he was
playing at a wedding, he laid his guitar on the wedding cake because he did
not see it. As Canned Heat's drummer, Fito de la Parra, wrote in his book:
'Without the glasses, Alan literally could not recognize the people he
played with at two feet, that's how blind the 'Blind Owl' was.'
With Canned Heat, Wilson performed at two prominent concerts of the 1960s
era, the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969. Canned Heat
appeared in the film Woodstock, and the band's 'Going Up the Country,' which
Wilson sang, has been referred to as the festival's unofficial theme song.
Wilson also wrote 'On the Road Again,' arguably Canned Heat's second-most
Wilson was a passionate conservationist who loved reading books on botany
and ecology. He often slept outdoors to be closer to nature. In 1969, he
wrote and recorded a song, 'Poor Moon', which expressed concern over
potential pollution of the moon. He wrote an essay called 'Grim Harvest',
about the coastal redwood forests of California, which was printed as the
liner notes to the Future Blues album by Canned Heat.
After Eddie 'Son' House's 'rediscovery' in 1964, Wilson taught him how to
play again the songs House had recorded in 1930 and 1942 (which he had
forgotten over a long absence from music); House recorded for Columbia in
1965 and two of three selections featuring Wilson on harmonica and guitar
appeared on the set. On the double album Hooker 'N Heat (1970),
John Lee Hooker is heard wondering how
Wilson is capable of following Hooker's guitar playing so well. Hooker was
known to be a difficult performer to accompany, partly because of his
disregard of song form. Yet Wilson seemed to have no trouble at all
following him on this album. Hooker concludes that 'you [Wilson] musta been
listenin' to my records all your life'. Hooker is also known to have stated
'Wilson is the greatest harmonica player ever'
Stephen Stills' song 'Blues Man' from the album Manassas is dedicated to
Wilson, along with Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman.
Wilson died in Topanga Canyon, California of a drug overdose at age 27.
Although Wilson had reportedly attempted suicide twice before and his death
is sometimes reported as a suicide, this is not clearly established as he
left no note.
Biography and commentary
In July 2007, Wilson's biography, Blind Owl Blues, by music journalist
Rebecca Davis Winters, was published. In May 2010, Wilson fans from around
the United States gathered in Colorado to discuss his music; this event was
called the First Annual Alanological Conference.
On December 21, 2010, Wilson's very own website, AlanWilsonCannedHeat.com,
was launched by some of his family members. Fans can find a lot of
information pertaining to Alan on this site. Pages include Alan's
<strong>Biography</strong>, information on instruments, interviews, videos,
merchandise, and information on saving the redwood trees. There's also a
forum for fans to discuss his life and music.
Alan was interested in preserving the natural world, particularly the
redwood trees. When he died so too did the Music Mountain organization he
had initiated dedicated to this purpose. In order to support his dream,
Alan’s family has purchased a “grove naming” in his memory through the Save
the Redwood League of California. The money gifted to create this memorial
to Alan will be used by the League to support redwood reforestation,
research, education, and land acquisition of both new and old growth
redwoods. Once the grove is selected, a dedication plaque bearing his name
will be placed there and Alan's family will post its location on the
AlanWilsonCannedHeat.com website. They hope it will serve as a living,
tangible remembrance of Alan; a place his family, friends, and fans may
enjoy visiting someday to feel Alan’s spirit and share his reverence for the
“tallest living things on Earth, nearly the oldest, and among the most
beautiful to boot.” Fans interested in making a donation can visit the site
at AlanWilsonCannedHeat.com and click the link under the 'Redwoods tab' on
the main site.